ANTHONY PUN. History of multiculturalism: Part 1 – Early development – Chinese Australian community involvement and Chinese students.

Sep 14, 2018

Early development of multiculturalism under PM Gough Whitlam and Immigration Minister Al Grassby and its passage through to the Hawke-Keating government;  community organisations played an important role in convincing the Hawke government to grant residency to 42,300 Chinese students.  

The influx of post WW2 non-British immigrants to Australia, known in the 1960s as “New Australians”, effectively displaced the “assimilation” model (Anglo-Celtic) as a way of life and replaced it with the “integration” model as European immigrants brought their culture and traditions with them to Australia and became entrenched in it.  Asians students and Vietnam refugees of the late 1960s added more pressure and support for the integration model.  By the 1970s, the immigrant cultures had resisted blending with the Anglo-Celtic culture and they are here to stay.  This was the beginning of multiculturalism in Australia, not as the “melting pot” model of the US but a “fruit salad” model with thick syrup binding the components, and was championed by notable Prime Ministers Whitlam and Fraser.

Multiculturalism as an Australian government policy began under PM Whitlam and his flamboyant Immigration Minister Al Grassby who imported the term “multiculturalism” from Canada and made it a “Labor vision” that Australia is a “family of nations”.

To ensure the survival of this new Labor vision, the Whitlam government introduced  the Anti-Discrimination Act 1975 with major objectives (i) to promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin, and (ii) to make discrimination against people on the basis of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin unlawful.  In complementing the legislation, the Office of Commissioner for Community Relations was established.

During the Whitlam years, many mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic community organisations were formed.  The Ethnic Communities Council of NSW (ECCNSW ) was  most notable and was founded by Bill (Wadim) Jegorow MBE,  in a Sydney Town Hall rally attended by two former PMs, Whitlam and Fraser.  Bill was posthumously honoured in the NSW Multicultural Honour Roll after a successful nomination by the Multicultural Communities Council of  NSW.  Chinese-Australian organisations including the Australian Chinese Community Association (ACCA), Chinese Australian Services Society (CASS), Chinese Australian Forum (CAF) and Chinese Australian Union (CAU) became members of the ECCNSW.

With the advent of the Fraser Administration (1975-1983), one would have thought that a change of government would mean the end of multiculturalism.  PM Fraser proved the pundits wrong and, acting as another visionary, laid the foundations for bipartisan multicultural policies, a practice that continued until the end of the Hawke-Keating Labor governments.

Under the Fraser government, multicultural policies were based on social cohesion, equality of opportunity and cultural identity and organisations.  The Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (AIMA), the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and the Federal Human Rights Commission were established under these principles, and the White Australia Policy was finally removed;  this led to an increase in Asian and non-European immigrants.

Following the 1983 election of the Hawke Government in 1983 and the review of the AIMA, a new entity, the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research (BIMPR), replaced the AIMA.  Multiculturalism became an important government policy when the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) was established to oversee policies and reported directly to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

A total of 42,300 Chinese students from PRC owe their Australian residency to PM Bob Hawke and Immigration Minister Nick Bolkus, NSW Regional Director Keith Owen and Al Grassby;  2,300 were admitted as highly qualified immigrants.  The government granted them residency with strong support from the Chinese community (Dr Peter Wong AM, Hon Henry Tsang OAM, Dr Tony Pun OAM), ECC NSW, FECCA (Angela Chan, Edna McGill OAM).  After more than 20 years have passed, the contributions of these young Chinese nationals have proven to be a great asset in the social, political, economic and multicultural development of Australia.

Multiculturalism from 1972-1996 had lacked an official definition.  Dr Sev Ozdowski, a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, defined Multiculturalism as: (i) An ideology of how a diverse society should be organised to maximise the benefits of cultural and religious diversity; (ii) A two way integration of new and old Australians; (iii) the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, civil liberties and freedoms, equality of sexes and English as a national language. The non-dominant cultures are seen as contributors and not as pollutants; and (iv) all cultures are equal.

Under multiculturalism, access and equity objectives have been adopted and funded by government so successfully that it became a bureaucracy and was no longer answerable to the community that helped created it nor sensitive to their cultural needs.  The SBS created in the late 1970s and state run Ethnic Affairs became a point of contention.

In NSW, we also saw the establishment of the Ethnic Affairs Commission and the passing of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.  In NSW, the Chinese Australian organisations that run public issues only are the Chinese Australian Forum (CAF) and the Chinese Australian Union (CAU), a predecessor of the Chinese Communities Council of Australia (CCCA).  Top welfare organisations are the Chinese Australian Services Society (CASS) and the Australian Chinese Community Association (ACCA).

The name change of the Ethnic Affairs Commission can be accredited to Ms Catherine Chung (ACCA) and Dr Tony Pun OAM (CAU) who worked together in a committee to support Premier Bob Carr’s  legislation for a name change from the NSW “Ethnic Affairs Commission” (EAC) to “Community Relations Commission” (CRC).  The recommendation for change also carried a recommended slogan “for a multicultural NSW”.  The author was called to give oral submission to a NSW Parliament Committee chaired by the Hon Rev Fred Nile, MLC.

Details of the debate were reported in the NSW Parliament Hansard :(i) NSW Legislative Council Hansard Full Day Transcript, Thursday, 1 June 2000, Corrected Copy; and (ii) Extract from Transcript of NSW Legislative Council Hansard 10/10/2000 (Article No.64) Second Reading  Page: 8851 on CRC Bill.

Dr Anthony Pun, OAM, is currently the National President of the Chinese Community Council of Australia and Chair of the Multicultural Communities Council of NSW.



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